Guilty Heart (why what makes us feel good also makes us feel bad)
It’s that panicky feeling I get when I’m not sure what to do. It’s pulling up studio schedule after studio schedule, trying to decide if, when, and where I’ll make it to class. It’s the “will I or won’t I” continuous flip-flop inside my stomach. It’s grappling with the reality of my day, and how I’m feeling in it, versus the person I aspire to be. It’s wondering if it would ever be enough, feeling like there’s always more I could be doing, choosing. It’s one giant should that clouds my vision and pulls me away from wherever I’m at and whatever I’m doing.
I call it the guilt. For me it frequently shows up as “yoga guilt”, but that’s not the only application I’ve seen. There’s also singing guilt and there’s even blogging guilt. There’s not-going-to-the-beach-enough guilt, and try-more-new-restaurants guilt, and read-all-of-the-important-books guilt too.
The essential quality they all share is a transformation from an activity or idea that started off as fun, invigorating, or spiritually nourishing to an obligation, a chore, or a burden. It makes me ask “What IS that thing?” A fundamentally human trait, to take what lights us up most and smush it into the tiny space, no wider than one line of a college-ruled notebook, of “to-do item.”
My yoga guilt started about a year after my first teacher training. Until then, I was practicing yoga every day, even if it meant 14+ hour days in the city, even if it meant a little less sleep at night. Eventually, there was a shift. Yoga, which had been an otherworldly experience at first, become part of my routine. And as I started teaching more, I found that my practice was slowly but surely getting crowded out.
Or was it? I was probably going to class 4-5 days a week at that point. What I wasn’t doing were the things I hear other young teachers talk about sometimes: taking back to back classes, discussing whether they should be going for a triple, or lamenting that they hadn’t practiced for two days, a kind of public confessional that expressed a deep need to be known as a yogi who took themselves seriously. I would know all about it; I’ve totally been there. I’ve done a 30-day yoga challenge while simultaneously eliminating all sugar from my diet. I’ve crossed right over from a hot room to a vinyasa studio to pick up a double. Early on, it seemed there were endless opportunities to go to class, and life was yoga all day/every day.
And then it wasn’t anymore. Then there were days when I was tired from teaching, and didn’t want to go through the same 26 poses, having taught them 2 or 3 times already. Then I prioritized sleep and nutrition, and resolved to create some white space in my calendar. The idea of leaping off my mat, dripping sweat as I threw on a dress, and scurrying over to an audition no longer held the same appeal. That kind of rushing around was about proving how capable I was, how many “to-dos” I could cram into my schedule. Frankly, it was also about being 5 years younger than I am today. Little by slowly, I craved being home before 9pm, and leisurely mornings with a cup of coffee. Carving out that time meant that on some days, getting to class was the thing to go.
And boy have I beaten myself up over this. Whenever that voice in my head got particularly snarky, it was always with the same refrain, “You’re just lazy.” Some days, that was probably true. Some days, I let worry and the rest of my to-do list get the better of me. Without ever really knowing for sure, I can guess that I might have felt better if I had picked myself up and gone to class on those occasions.
But some days, I made the right choice. I chose to care for myself in different ways. I chose connecting with other human beings, or an extra hour of sleep, instead.
I am in a new city now, and despite my best efforts, yoga guilt seems to have traveled with me. I feel this enormous should around trying all the right studios, and the best teachers, and making sure I get the full “Boston yoga” experience. So although I would encourage any new teacher (or anyone else for that matter) to let go of their yoga (writing, knitting, beach-going) guilt, I recognize that may be easier said than done.
Here’s what I’m thinking about when yoga guilt shows up:
*Yoga is an amazing experience. But it is one of many amazing experiences in this world. It is not magical, it is not mandatory.
*Yoga is not the exception to all my beliefs about how the universe works. I am in control of my choices, and I trust myself to choose what’s best in any given moment, even if that means not going to class.
*Compassion, compassion, compassion. It’s okay to feel guilty. It’s okay to resist- even the things we love the most. I am always doing the best I can.
*Only I can judge whether my practice is working for me. Question every other idea about when, where, with whom, and how often.
I’d love to hear from you. What gives you “the guilt?” How do you handle those feelings when they show up?
Wishing you a week free of shame and blame.